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Syrian opposition activists ask Kosovo for advice

A Syrian dissident said Thursday his country's opposition is turning to Kosovo's former rebels-turned-politicians for advice on how to topple Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus.

Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled anti-Assad activist, said that seeing a new country "emerging out of the nightmare and emerging as a state" could be inspiring for Syrian dissidents.

Assad's government has cracked down on a 13-month-old popular uprising in Syria, leading to an estimated 9,000-plus deaths.

"We are here to learn," Abdulhamid said during an interview with The Associated Press in Pristina. "Kosovo has gone through an experience that I think will be very useful to us in terms of how the different armed groups that formed the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) organized themselves."

Abdulhamid is one of three Syrian opposition activists visiting Kosovo, where they met former Kosovo rebels who fought a separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99. Serbia still rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

No details were given about the meetings with former rebels whose identities were not disclosed.

Syria's opposition has been criticized for failing to put up a more united front.

"We really need to get our act together as opposition coalitions," Abdulhamid said.

The dissident, who has been living in exile in the United States since 2005, compared the apparent lack of unity among Syria's opposition to Kosovo's own political divisions in the late 1990s between pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova and armed rebels.

"Somehow they've managed to make it work so that gives us a hope that we can also rise above the differences and make transition to democracy in Syria something viable," Abdulhamid said.

The ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army launched an uprising against the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic in 1997. Serbia's response provoked international condemnation and led to NATO's 78-day bombing in 1999 that ended the crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians and brought Kosovo under U.N. administration. About 10,000 people died in the Kosovo conflict.

Russia supports Serbia in rejecting Kosovo's declaration of independence, which many countries, including the U.S. and most EU countries, support.